TRISH DESEINE makes the final Christmas countdown a joyous, all-Irish affair …
This year, more than ever, is one to treat yourself and your loved ones. You’ve earned it! So once the turkey, goose, ham, spiced beef, sprouts, chocolates and whatever else you’re having on The Big Day have all been sorted, take everything else a few steps further. Drill down in true Xavier de Maistre-style (author of A Journey Around My Room) by thinking, then overthinking and then thinking some more about what you’d like to cook, eat or give as edible gifts this month. And even if you won’t have everyone you would like around your table this year, you can make all food as special as possible for these last days of 2020, while doing all your buying in Ireland.
THREE WEEKS TO CHRISTMAS:
CLEAR OUT THE MURKY DEPTHS OF YOUR FREEZER AND REFILL IT WITH JOY
Cook up and eat up all the sad leftovers and forgotten fish fingers and replace them with infinitely more glamorous bags of ice for making cocktails and chilling bubbles, frozen mango, blueberries and raspberries for luxurious smoothies and some swish sorbets and ice-creams for sweet cravings.
If you can make a trip to Marks & Spencer, pick up some of their excellent lemon sorbet for Sgroppinos (sorbet and vodka whisked, then topped with Prosecco) and some Percy Pig ice cream for the numerous children (and adults) not so keen on Christmas pudding, cake or mince pies. As selected stores are also now stocking the French cult frozen food brand, Picard, kings of canapés, you may never stuff that 2020 mushroom again.
For a lazy, E-number free Twixmas, stock up with The Butler’s Pantry incredible range of gourmet and special family meals (www.butlerspantry.ie) or www.kaylaskitchen.ie’s delicious and nutritious snap-frozen dishes which include lovely veggie, vegan and free-from creations alongside the lamb ragus, cottage pies and pork and pepper goulash.
TWO WEEKS TO CHRISTMAS:
ORDER, ORDER, ORDER
This week, there is still time to send something small and delicious to friends and family you might not be lucky enough to see in the flesh. Two of my favourite Irish food stores are Ardkeen in Waterford and The Counter Deli in Letterkenny, and their excellent online shops do not disappoint. I also like the look of Avoca’s very prettily packaged marmalade and jams, Katie Sanderson’s Peanut Rayu and any number of hamper options all at www.avoca.com. Check out Craft Food’s Traders Cannabis Herbal Tea and All Ireland Foods’ great All Irish chocolate hamper too.
Ballymakenny Farm will still take orders for delivery of their remarkable heritage potatoes until December 15. Choose between Violetta, Pink Fir Apple, Red Emmalie,
Yukon Gold and Mayan Rose, and add a bunch of their “Frivole” kalettes, a mix between purple sprouting broccoli and kale.
“Breakfast in the Burren” from Burren Smokehouse in Lisdoonvarna is a wonderful selection of smoked fish, butter, wheaten bread and granola, all produced in the Burren and deliverable worldwide. What a fantastic present for anyone you love who might not make it home for Christmas. Just make sure to order one for yourself – before December 16.
Terroirs in Dublin represents several excellent French champagne houses if you are looking for something special, and also import directly from more than 100 vignerons. They also stock a really good French and Irish deli selection including Broughgammon charcuterie and Christmas puddings from Orla McCluskey in Galway.
For the ultimate rare, Irish culinary luxury, snap up one of Rob Krawczyk’s beautifully presented, delicate “Roots” larder boxes, a collection of preserves, pickles and ferments inspired by Rob’s West Cork culinary heritage including fennel pollen, nasturtium seed capers, dill oil, a most intriguing charcoal oil, and Restaurant Chestnut’s gorgeous cultured turf smoked butter. Available to order up to around December 15.
Other original Irish ingredients for serious cooks which caught my eye online are: Homespun’s Chicory Root syrup, a low-GI, high-fibre, alternative to honey (which still tastes good), Drummond House Smoked Elephant garlic, Kinsale Mead (excellent with duck dishes, in chocolate truffles, or to enrich a homemade tomato sauce) Nut Shed’s utterly delectable peanut butters and sweet, raw vegan truffles, Willow and Wild’s Sourdough Starter kits, North Coast Smokehouse’s Smoked salt, Salmon and Pollan, Grá’s beautiful, filled chocolate baubles and Calvey’s Achill Mountain Lamb intriguing “offal bags” – alongside their excellent traditional butcher’s cuts, of course. Green Saffron’s fabulous spice mixes come into their own at Christmas, particularly the Turkey Spice for transforming leftovers. Last but not least, Velvet Cloud’s amazing Sheep Yoghurt can also be delivered to your door – although as orders come in six pots of 450g, you might need to share a few with your neighbours.
Butlers Chocolates Festive Gifting Bundles come in small (€30), medium (€50) and large (€75) and include bars, truffles, hot chocolate and chocolate-filled Christmas crackers, beautifully presented in a glossy black box: www.butlerschocolates.com.
ONE WEEK TO CHRISTMAS:
EAT, UPSKILL, EXPERIMENT
This is the week of eating and discovery, when no holds are barred, normal rules do not apply and the notion of being “in training for Christmas Day eating” is completely acceptable. Your fridge, freezer and kitchen cupboards should now be packed full of all your favourite things and if they are not, take comfort in the knowledge that Sheridan’s Cheesemongers can deliver the premium ingredients you need to cook the most high level-decadent cheese dishes, anywhere in Ireland, in just 24 hours – from the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich to fondue, duck confit orzo salad or an arancini kit, they give you the recipe, just add wine. Last deliveries are December 23.
I have tried to focus on nationwide deliveries, but if you are lucky enough to live within five kilometres of 64 Wine in Glasthule, their Indulgence Gourmet Box is just too fabulous to resist. Imagine! Frank Hederman’s exquisite smoked salmon, a selection of cured meat from Pedro Nieto & Wooded Pig, homemade tapenade and hummus, a selection of Irish farmhouse cheeses, Sheridan’s onion marmalade, mixed olives, smoked almonds, capers, horseradish cream and homemade Guinness bread.
This is the week to make the best club sandwich of your life with Ummera smoked chicken, to perfect, finally, your hollandaise Eggs Royale with Frank Hederman’s wild smoked salmon (order it before it goes, and all Frank’s produce before December 11), to concoct the best mulled wine ever with Arun Kapul’s spice mix and, finally, to produce your own Christmas cake marzipan with the best almonds you can find at Country Choice in Nenagh. Recipe below. If you are not a fan of the sweet surround, don’t forget the wonderful combination of a rich fruit cake and creamy, pungent Durrus cheese.
All that remains is to give yourself an early Christmas present of online cooking lessons at Yes Chef (€10 a month subscription) or The Kitchn (free), or buy (at an indie Irish bookstore, please) Nik Sharma’s terrific book all about the science of cooking, The Flavour Equation and then have a little browse amongst Craic Food’s amazing award-winning potions and powders. You can order them until December 20.
Stay well, happy cooking – and Merry Christmas!
ROYAL ICING AND MARZIPAN FOR CHRISTMAS CAKE
It’s such a lovely, mood-setting task, icing the Christmas cake, and for me, really ignites my festive emotions. Make the marzipan and cover the cake a good three days before icing it, as the almonds need to dry out or risk seeping into and staining the base of the icing. The recipe below deliberately gives a little too much for one large 23cm-diameter cake and is flavoured with rose-water, instead of almond essence. Roll the scraps into balls then pistachios and dried rose petals, or dip them in chocolate for decadent nibbles with coffee. Royal icing is a cinch, and so satisfyingly pliant and reminiscent of snow. Cover the peaks and troughs in gaudy decorations if you wish, or leave it plain and pure and immaculate like a freshly covered Alpine slope. Although the eggs are raw in both these recipes, the sugar and dryness of the mixtures do not allow bacteria to develop. You can of course use fondant icing or pasteurised eggs in royal icing if you are still worried. The iced cake will keep for a good two or three weeks.
20 minutes preparation
450g ground almonds • 175g caster sugar • 275g icing sugar • 1/2 tsp rose-water • 2 eggs, beaten • 2 tbsps apricot jam, warmed
1. Mix the almonds and the sugars in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs. With a knife, stir the eggs through the sugar and almonds then bring the paste together with your hands.
2. Knead the marzipan for a minute or so on a surface dusted with icing sugar.
3. Brush the cake all over with the apricot jam.
4. Roll out the marzipan into a circle of the desired diameter and thickness (thinking of the leftover scraps!) then place it over the cake. Press it into the top and sides of the cake, stretching gently without tearing. Leave the cake in a cool, dry place for two to three days to allow the marzipan to dry before icing.
25 minutes preparation
2 egg whites • 600 – 700g icing sugar • 2 tsp lemon juice
1. Beat the egg whites in a mixer until they form soft peaks. Add the icing sugar a little at a time while whisking, until the mixture is light and glossy. Add the lemon juice and mix it through. Ice the cake using a palette knife, making it as smooth or as swirly and spiky as you like.
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